A third of the way down Errol Street in North Melbourne lies the quaint Italian-inspired café, Cinque Lire (5 Lire). The coffee shop is relatively new to Melbourne’s lively coffee scene, but its contemporary Italian menu, its hipster vibe, and its bean-savvy staff make the café a fine competitor. Even with the likes of Auction Rooms Café across the street, the newbie shop is always packed with patrons.
I was able to visit Cinque Lire on my first trip to Melbourne in late November 2014. My first impression upon walking toward the café was positive. The cheerful blue chairs out the front coupled with the prominently lit sign boasting their name easily draws attention to their location. The inner décor is similarly fantastic. When you step into Cinque Lire, you step into an Italian café. The owners have used the small space to their advantage by selecting long share tables and two bar seating areas. The seating arrangement asserts a community atmosphere, which is all too present in Italian culture. By seating differing parties next to each other, Cinque Lire suggests this notion without being too much in your face.
After taking my seat at a share table with my party and another twosome, I was able to admire the specials chalkboard that covers a fair chunk of the neighbouring wall as well as the treated brick and shelved units constructed from scaffolding. Ample natural light streams in from the large front windows and soft Italian music washes over the restaurant from the coffee station. Together the décor allowed me to escape to Italy while also keeping true to its Melbourne roots.
We were served lemon water by the waitress as soon as we took our seats. She was friendly and efficient, but her real test came when she was asked by one of my party about the coffee served at Cinque Lire. I’m pleased to say she passed. The waitress informed us the shop serves Locale Espresso, and she was knowledgeable about the flavour notes of their blends. Having never tasted Locale Espresso, I was both nervous and excited when my cappuccino arrived. The coffee itself was quite pleasant. It was a bit strong for my taste but still drinkable, and it finished with a slight bitter tang. The coffee at Cinque Lire is a solid 6.5 out of 10.
Given the Italian character of the joint, it makes sense that Cinque Lire Café also demonstrates the country’s influences in their food. The menu is moderately priced, ranging from $6.50 for their simple Toast and Preserves to $21.90 for the Antipasto Board. Of course, I went for the all-day breakfast option and chose the Ricotta Hotcakes ($14.50).
As we waited for our food, I noticed how well the servers and baristas worked together. When a waitress was unable to fetch something for a customer, the barista would pick up the slack. Similarly, when the barista was overwhelmed with coffee orders, a waitress happily hopped on the machine to assist him. There is a symbiosis between the staff at Cinque Lire that is unsurpassed. It is the way a restaurant should be run.
When my hotcakes arrived, I felt myself salivating at the sight of them. Not only was I very hungry (especially after seeing the orders arrive for the diners with whom we shared a table), but it was gorgeously presented. A whole poached pear accompanied two golden hotcakes smothered in roasted hazelnuts and dark chocolate shavings and served with a dollop of vanilla mascarpone. Divinity on a plate.
I thought the dish itself was above average, but not exceptional. The pancakes were light and fluffy, which was a feat considering the heavy ricotta snaking throughout them, and the vanilla bean mascarpone was delightfully aerated and tasted of true vanilla. However, the dish fell flat with the poached pear. Although the whole pear presented beautifully on the plate, it was awkward to cut, eat, and had a firm texture. It was inexcusably underdone and lacked any flavour. A hearty dash of cinnamon or nutmeg wouldn’t have gone amiss. I also didn’t like that it was served cold alongside the steaming hotcakes. However, the chocolate was of excellent quality and delicious with the roasted hazelnuts, giving the pancakes a Nutella edge.
Laying aside the pear fiasco, I had an exceptional time at Cinque Lire and will certainly return next Melbourne trip. Although a newer café, I believe with a little menu tweaking they will certainly give Auction Rooms a run for best coffee shop on Errol Street.